Paper 5: A bizarre case of homicidal electrocution - A case report by Sharma LK, Sharma G, Sirohiwal BL, Khanagwal VP, Paliwal PK, Yadav DR: Anil Aggrawal's Internet Journal of Forensic Medicine: Vol. 6, No. 2 (July - December 2005)
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Received: May 25, 2005
Accepted: August 16, 2005
Ref: Sharma LK, Sharma G, Sirohiwal BL, Khanagwal VP, Paliwal PK, Yadav DR.  A bizarre case of homicidal electrocution - A case report  Anil Aggrawal's Internet Journal of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology [serial online] 2005; Vol. 6, No. 2 (July - December 2005): ; Published August 16, 2005, (Accessed: 

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Luv Sharma Geetanjali Sharma Basant L. Sirohiwal Vijay P. Khanagwal Vijay P. Khanagwal Vijay P. Khanagwal
Luv Sharma

Geetanjali Sharma

Basant L. Sirohiwal

Vijay P. Khanagwal

Pramod K. Paliwal

D.R. Yadav

A bizarre case of homicidal electrocution - A case report

by Luv K. Sharma1, Geetanjali Sharma2, Basant L. Sirohiwal3, Vijay P. Khanagwal4, Pramod K. Paliwal5, D.R. Yadav6,

1, 2, Lecturer, 3, 5, Associate Professor, 4Reader, 6Professor & Head,
Departments of Forensic Medicine & Physiology,
Pt. B.D. Sharma Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Rohtak-124001,
Haryana, India.


Abstract

The paper describes an unusual case of homicide by electrocution, whereby two relatives of a person electrocuted him after first incapacitating him with alcohol.

Keywords

Homicidal electrocution, murder

Introduction

Deaths due to electrocution are infrequent. Virtually all such deaths are accidental in nature with suicides much rarer and homicides least common. A very scanty literature with widely interspersed reported cases of homicidal electrocution exists. Still, the brutal manner of killing a human being with the use of one of the most ingenious discoveries of mankind is captivating though horrific too!

Figure 1: Body of the victim as was found by the police (note the metallic rod sticking out from neck and long wire going away from the body)
Figure 1: Body of the victim as was found by the police (note the metallic rod sticking out from neck and long wire going away from the body) [Click all pictures to enlarge]

Case Report

The victim was a businessman belonging to a neighboring state living away from his family in a rented house in the said city. The man committed a grave and fatal mistake by taking into his house two of his poor relations after employing them into his factory. The relations took advantage of his generosity and planned his murder with ulterior motives. The landlord did not see either the man or his relatives for a couple of days so suspecting foul play called the police to break open the locked house. There they discovered the decomposed body of the benefactor lying in the courtyard (photograph no.1). A mass of wires were tied on his wrists which further continued to encircle his neck. These wires placed on his neck were fitted into two metallic rods and a long piece of wire abruptly ended a few feet away from the body. The remaining portion of this long wire was seen to enter the kitchen and was inserted into an electrical socket on the wall (photograph no.2).

Findings on post-mortem examination

The body of the victim showed signs of decomposition of roughly 3-5 days duration. It wore only a pattedar kaccha (a striped underwear) and baniyan (vest used as an undergarment in India) (photograph no.3). The most striking thing about this body was the presence of a whole circuit of electricity formed by electric wires tied over his wrists with a loose end emanating which was cut at the end. These wires then encircled the neck where they were tied around two metallic rods, thereby transfixing the neck between them.

Figure 2: Other portion of loose wire inserted into socket in kitchen.
Figure 2: Other portion of loose wire inserted into socket in kitchen. (Click picture to enlarge)

This arrangement resembled a cathode- anode axis. Loose ends again cut (insulating material removed from the ends) were sticking out of the rods (photograph no.4). The combined effect of the electric current, tight wires around the neck and the decomposition process had caused damage to the neck structures leading to exposure of cervical vertebrae (photograph no.5, 6). Marked congestion was seen in the neck tissues. The edges of the torn skin of the neck were showing contused ragged margins with thickened, rolled up and undermined edges below the wires. The wires of death were removed and reconstructed to see the elaborate arrangement (photograph no.7).

All internal organs showed signs of early putrefaction, which was consistent with death occurring 3-5 days earlier.

Figure 3: Another view of the dead body after hands were opened. The 'cathode' arrangement is clearly visible.
Figure 3: Another view of the dead body after hands were opened. The 'cathode' arrangement is clearly visible. [Click all pictures to enlarge]

Discussion

This was the work of criminals who knew a lot about electricity. At the crime scene a bottle of alcohol was recovered by the police, therefore, the viscera were preserved for chemical analysis, the same being positive for ethyl alcohol (blood concentration 150 mg %). This confirmed the theory that the victim was first incapacitated by alcohol and then killed, as it would have been difficult to simply overpower such a well built man and fry him in such an elaborate manner.

Figure 4: Dead body on the autopsy table. (Note the metallic rod sticking out from neck, long wire going away from the body and hands fastened together by same wire)
Figure 4: Dead body on the autopsy table. (Note the metallic rod sticking out from neck, long wire going away from the body and hands fastened together by same wire). [Click picture to enlarge]

Deaths due to electrocution virtually always involve alternating current, it being more commonly used in this country. Another factor could be that humans are about 4-6 times more sensitive to alternating than to direct current1. The use of electric current for homicide is not a very common method and very scarce literature is available in this regard. This type of murder is usually associated with a criminal of very offensive nature or planned revenge murders with a technical knowledge of electricity. The very idea of applying electric current to a human being to kill him is appalling.

Physiological Effects of current on the human body

The major physiological effects of current on the human body with respect to onset current level is depicted below2:-

Figure 5: A complete view of the dead body of the victim after being brought to the mortuary.
Figure 5: A complete view of the dead body of the victim after being brought to the mortuary. [Click all pictures to enlarge]

Onset Current Level
(mA)

Effect

1

Threshold of sensation

8

Mild sensation

10

Painful

13

Cannot let go

21

Muscular paralysis

20

Severe shock

38

Breathing labored

42

Breathing upset

70

Extreme breathing difficulties

90

Ventricular fibrillation

100

Death

When an electric shock is fatal, it is called electrocution. A low voltage (110-220 V), 60-Hz AC current traveling through the chest for a fraction of a second may induce ventricular fibrillation at currents as low as 60 mA. With DC, 300-500 mA is required. Fibrillations are usually lethal because all the heart muscle cells move independently. It is believed that human lethality is most common with AC current at 100-250 volts, as lower voltages can fail to overcome the body resistance while with higher voltages the victim's muscular contractions are severe enough to cause them to recoil. Electric shocks have been used as a method of torture, since they can be controlled with precision and used to cause pain whilst avoiding obvious evidence on the victim's body3.

Figure 6: Another view of the dead body after hands were opened. The 'cathode' arrangement is clearly visible.
Figure 6: Another view of the dead body after hands were opened. The 'cathode' arrangement is clearly visible. (Click picture to enlarge)

Review of literature on homicidal electrocution

Cases pertaining to homicide by electrocution have been reported earlier by different methods and sites involved like tub bath deaths4, wrapping of bare wires over wrists5, attaching current to soap dish of wife6, other domestic murders of similar type7, murder of infant by father by wires fixed to crib8 and two recent murders by a man of his son and wife by tying wires around their limbs and deceiving them that the wires were harmless9. The authors of this paper have also encountered two cases of homicidal electrocution in which electric shocks were applied to two elderly men by bared wires at different sites10.

Figure 7: View of 'wires of death'. The whole apparatus is laid for close inspection after removal from dead body
Figure 7: View of 'wires of death'. The whole apparatus is laid for close inspection after removal from dead body. [Click all pictures to enlarge]

It is clear from the above that murder by electricity is a very rare phenomenon. Still the use of such ingenious through brutal means for homicide is an alarm bell for sociologists, law enforcement agencies and forensic experts as this clearly reflects the mental makeup of the murderer.

References

(1) Dimaio DJ, DiMaio VJM. In: Forensic Pathology. Boca Raton CRC Press; 1993:367-69  (Back to [citation] in text)
(2) Electrocution of the human body : http://www.rfcafe.com/references/electrical/electrocution.htm  (Back to [citation] in text)
(3) Electric Shock : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_shock  (Back to [citation] in text)
(4) Knight B. Forensic Pathology. London: Edward Arnold; 1991: pp.300-01, 303  (Back to [citation] in text)
(5) Knight B (Ed). Simpson's Forensic medicine. 10th Ed. Serenoak Kent Edward Arnold. 1991; 224  (Back to [citation] in text)
(6) Polson CJ. The essentials of Forensic Medicine. 4th ed. Oxford: Pergamon Press; 1985: pp.306  (Back to [citation] in text)
(7) Mant AK. Taylor's Principles and practice of Medical Jurisprudence. 23rd ed. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone; 1984: pp.274  (Back to [citation] in text)
(8) Knight B (Ed). Simpson's Forensic medicine. 10th Ed. Serenoak Kent Edward Arnold. 1991; 232-3  (Back to [citation] in text)
(9) Al Alousi LM. Homicide by electrocution. Med Sci Law.1990 Jul; 30(3):239-46. [Pubmed - www.pubmed.gov] (Back to [citation] in text)
(10) Sharma L, Khanagwal VP, Sirohiwal BL, Paliwal PK and Yadav DR. Homicidal Electrocution- A medico-legal rarity. Anil Aggrawal's Internet Journal of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, 2003; Vol. 4, No.2, (July-December) http://www.geradts.com/anil/ij/vol_004_no_002/papers/paper006.html  [Anil Aggrawals Internet Journal of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology] (Back to [citation] in text)


*Corresponding author and requests for clarifications and further details:
Dr. Luv K. Sharma,
Lecturer,
Department of Forensic Medicine,
Pt. B.D. Sharma Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences,
Rohtak-124001,
Haryana, India.
E-mail: drluvksharma@yahoo.com
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